Embrace Cherokee, a state-sponsored program that works to support and retain foster parents, is being credited with increasing the retention rate of foster parents in the county.
The retention rate for foster families in Cherokee has skyrocketed from 72 percent in March 2008, when the initiative started, to 94.5 percent as of December.
The number of children in foster care has also declined, from 218 in March 2009 to 155 as of Feb. 28. The number of foster homes in the county has remained steady from 87 at this time last year to 84 as of this month.
Amy Blanton, foster parent liaison with Embrace, said she was pleased with the numbers.
"We've helped hugely in the foster parent area," she said.
Embrace also assists families involved in the system with formal and informal support networks. The program is also working to bridge the gap between current foster families and the Division of Family and Children Services.
The main goal for Embrace, Mrs. Blanton said, is to focus on retention of foster parents and she said she is hoping the use of the newly created mentoring program will help families.
The program allows longtime foster parents to mentor and guide newer foster parents through common issues they may face.
"It's essential to keep the new foster parents connected to our seasoned veterans," Ms. Blanton added.
The mentoring program will help new foster families feel like they are not alone with juggling the day-to-day routines of raising a family on top of the hardships of fostering children.
"You feel very overwhelmed," Ms. Blanton said, adding foster parents have to juggle school, activities, visitation and sometimes court dates in relation to the children.
Along with the mentoring program, Ms. Blanton said Embrace has implemented training by phone for foster parents and has allowed them to participate in Web conference training.
Embrace has also bridged the long-standing gap between foster parents and the Cherokee County DFCS.
The organization has improved communication between DFCS and foster parents and has given each side a perspective into the other's operations.
Ms. Blanton, along with Julie Evans, resource development worker for DFCS, said the economic downturn has had an affect on foster parenting in the county.
Ms. Evans said it has been difficult to recruit families to come to classes on foster parenting.
"It's scary to try to step up and - take care of other kids when you are trying to support your own family," she said.
But, Ms. Evans said, the rewards of becoming a foster parent can be so beneficial that the occasional obstacles are worth it.
"It's a wonderful experience to know that you've changed a kid's life," Ms. Blanton added.
Pam Frost said her decision to foster children "has really been a blessing."
Mrs. Frost and her husband Mike have been foster parents for six years.
"We just felt the need was there for the community," she said when asked why she decided to foster children.
Over the years, the Frosts have fostered seven children and are currently fostering to adopt.
Mrs. Frost also praised the Embrace program with bringing foster parents together. While it will be overwhelming at times, Mrs. Frost said anyone considering becoming foster parents should think long and hard about it.
"It's going to be challenging, but you do it for the children," she said. "We don't do it for ourselves."
Tricia Vines of Union Hill has also been overjoyed with foster parenting. Mrs. Vines and her husband Tim have also been fostering for six years. During the course of the past six years, they have fostered 20 children and currently are fostering one child now.
She said Embrace has provided not only resources for foster parents in Cherokee, but has also helped with things such as paperwork or finding resources to fulfill the needs of foster children.
"It's been a worthwhile experience," she said.